Renting with An ESA - Understand Your Rights to Housing
Written by: Loren Seldner
Time to read 7 min
Many pet owners consider their animal companions part of the family. That's why it can be utterly devastating when apartment complexes have rules that don't allow pets.
Thankfully, more and more pet owners enjoy companionship with their Emotional Support Animals (ESAs). Federal laws have been developed to support emotional support animals and this animal and human relationship.
However, you must follow the proper protocols and understand your rights as an ESA owner before beginning the renting process. While finding housing with an emotional support animal can feel overwhelming, it doesn't have to be.
Here's our all-inclusive, comprehensive guide to the ins and outs of renting with an ESA. Let's get started!
What is an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?
An emotional support animal helps to alleviate symptoms of mental or emotional disabilities by providing emotional support and companionship.
Is an Emotional Support Animal the same as a Service Animal?
While many people have heard of service animals or service dogs, such as guide dogs, not everyone is as informed about emotional support animals (ESAs). Emotional support animals provide companionship, alleviate loneliness, and aid individuals with emotional and mental disabilities. However, emotional support animals are not the same as service animals, although they carry some of the same privileges regarding their housing rights.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an emotional support animal helps relieve one or more symptoms or effects of a person's mental or physical disability. For an ESA to be legally recognized, you must receive an ESA Letter for Housing, which must be written and signed off by a licensed mental health professional as part of a prescribed treatment plan. Unlike a service animal, you do not have to train an ESA to perform specific tasks related to a disability. ESAs are also not restricted to any particular type of animal, while under the ADA, service animals are limited to dogs or miniature horses.
What are ESA Housing Laws?
According to the Fair Housing Act ,landlords are legally required to make reasonable accommodations for ESA owners. Under the FHA, in most cases, your landlord is legally obligated to provide you and your animal companion with housing. However, there are some exceptions to this law.
ESA Housing Laws
The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law focused on preventing discrimination and protecting the housing rights of all individuals during the sale, rental, or financing of a home. Race, nationality, sexuality, and religion are all protected under federal fair housing laws, and so are individuals with disabilities.
The FHA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment significantly limiting a person's major life activities. Therefore, similar to service animal laws, ESA owners are protected under these rules and have special rights. This means that even if an apartment complex has a "no pets" rule or imposes restrictions on pets, landlords must make reasonable accommodations to allow pets who serve as assistance animals to live in their building.
Additionally, because ESAs are not considered "pets" under the Fair Housing Act, all pet-related rules for a specific building do not apply to ESAs. ESA owners are not obliged to pay pet fees or pet deposits and do not need to abide by breed or weight restrictions. However, as an emotional support animal owner, you must present your housing provider with a legitimate emotional support animal letter or an ESA Letter for Housing as proof that you require an emotional support animal.
Can a landlord deny an ESA?
It is rare, but, there are some situations when a landlord can deny an ESA. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a landlord may refuse an ESA when:
The animal presents a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals, or it could cause substantial damage to the property of others. In other words, a landlord may deny your request if your ESA is a danger to others or the property.
The specific type of animal (not breed) requested is prohibited for health and safety reasons. For example, this could apply to an exotic animal that could pose a risk or a dog breed that is banned by local regulations.
If accommodating the ESA would cause an undue financial or administrative burden on the landlord.
However, the landlord has to prove that one of these situations applies, and they cannot simply deny an ESA because they have a "no pets" policy. If your landlord denies your legitimate ESA, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
What is needed to qualify for an ESA?
If your pet alleviates one or more identified symptoms of your mental or emotional disability, then you most likely qualify for an ESA. A prescribed treatment plan from a certified therapist can confirm this.
How to certify an ESA
To qualify for a legally recognized emotional support animal, you must have a diagnosed mental or emotional disability significantly impacting your daily activities. This disability must be confirmed by a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. They will assess your condition and determine whether an ESA would be beneficial in alleviating your symptoms.
You will need an ESA Letter for Housing from the licensed therapist to certify your ESA. This letter should be on the professional's letterhead, include their contact information, and state that you have a disability and require an ESA as part of your prescribed treatment plan.
The letter should also affirm that the ESA will alleviate symptoms of your condition and explain how the animal provides support. It is essential to obtain a genuine ESA Letter to avoid complications and ensure your rights are protected.
What conditions qualify for an ESA letter for housing?
Many individuals qualify for emotional support animals, and a licensed mental health professional will make all recommendations. If you have a disability and your ESA can relieve or alleviate at least one of your symptoms, you will most likely qualify for an emotional support animal.
There is no definitive list of mental or emotional disabilities that you must live with to qualify for an ESA, but here are some of the most common:
How to get your ESA letter for housing
While the process of renting with an ESA might seem intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. The most critical step in the process is obtaining an ESA Letter. Numerous online services provide individuals with these documents, so select a reputable provider with years of experience. We at Felicitails through our Free My Paws Emotional Support Animal Certification Program have been providing services to our patients for almost 15 years now!
Do Your Homework
Before you begin the formal process, take a bit of time to research the benefits of living with an Emotional Support Animal and understand everything that your landlord will require of you. We have several informative articles and videos that you can read/watch to assist you in your information gathering period.
Consultation with a Certified Therapist
Next, you need to work only with a licensed mental health professional, like we offer through our Free My Paws ESA Certification program. Before your consultation, expect to pay an affordable fee online. However, this should be 100% risk-free because if you don't qualify for an ESA, the provider should provide you with a full refund, we stand behind every Free My Paws program we offer, and for some reason if your landlord refused to work with you, we will refund any fees you have paid.
Additionally, your therapist will be an expert in ESA laws and best practices. So please do not hesistate asking any questions during your therapy session together.
Once you complete your consultation, your Certified Therapist will have all the information needed to certify your need for an ESA and write a recommendation letter prescribing an ESA as a necessary part of the treatment plan for your condition.
Your ESA Letter
Once you receive your letter, you can print or email this document to your landlord for review. Remember, if you face any challenges with your ESA Letter even after you have received it, your provider should be committed to helping you with any issues, including legal advice.
Renting with an ESA
When renting with an emotional support animal, it is crucial to have a well-trained and well-behaved animal to ensure a positive experience for both you and your landlord. Here are some tips to consider:
Communicate with your landlord: Having an open conversation with your landlord about your ESA is vital. Provide them with your ESA Letter and discuss any concerns or questions they may have. Developing a positive relationship with your landlord can help in resolving any potential issues before they arise.
Follow the rules: While ESA owners have certain rights under the FHA, following any reasonable rules and regulations your landlord sets is still essential. This includes cleaning up after your animal, respecting common areas, and ensuring your ESA does not disturb other tenants.
Maintain good behavior: Ensure your ESA is well-behaved and does not damage the property. Consider professional training if this will help. This will help establish a positive image and reduce the likelihood of any complaints or conflicts.
Seek additional training if needed: If your ESA requires additional training to improve its behavior or manners, consider enrolling in obedience classes or working with a professional dog trainer. This can help address any specific issues and make the renting experience smoother.
By understanding your rights, obtaining a legitimate ESA Letter, and following best practices, renting with an ESA can be a more straightforward process. Remember to be respectful and responsible, and you'll be able to keep your ESA by your side to enjoy their companionship and support.
Let Felicitails take away the worry and hassle of getting your ESA letter for Housing? Click here, and let us help you make it easy.
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